When at drupa, think ink: a veritable river of pigment coursing through the exhibit halls like a Pantone-hued tributary of the Rhine for thirsty presses to quaff as they pound out posters and other printed keepsakes for the endless human flow of visitors. Think ink: an insufficient reason in itself, perhaps, to cross international boundaries for a printing show, but reason enough to rate the trip less than fully worthwhile if overlooked.

The name drupa, a contraction of the German words druck for printing and papier for paper, doesn't contain a syllable for the fluid article without which printing is feckless and paper is pointless. But it probably should. Although it's inevitable that some drupa-goers will miss ink as they wander drupa's steel forests of heavy equipment, it would be wrong to ignore the important contribution of this vital commodity to the overall value of the fair.

The drupa exhibitor catalog lists more than 60 manufacturers of printing inks of all kinds, making ink the largest product grouping in the materials/consumables category. Ink manufacturers are as eager as any other group of vendors to display the evidence of technical progress that a show like drupa demands, and their claim to showgoers' attention is as compelling as anyone else's.

As press manufacturers push output speeds to new limits; harness the metering of ink to digital workflows; introduce complex new ink delivery systems and inline finishing solutions; accommodate broader ranges of substrates; and otherwise expand the definitions of what litho, flexo, and gravure equipment can produce, ink formulations must keep pace. This drupa is full of evidence that advances in ink technology are pacing gains on all other fronts and keeping ink what it has always beenthe life blood of every smoothly running printing process.

We couldn't visit every printing ink exhibitor at drupa, but we think that the following news highlights from three of the most prominentSun Chemical, Flint, and Van Songive a good indication of progress in the category as a whole.

Sun Chemical

Introduced for commercial use about 25 years ago, electron beam (EB) curing showed much technical promise as a safe and friendly alternative to the VOCs, chemical migration, and other complications of package printing with conventional, air-drying inks. In a process similar to ultraviolet (UV) curing, EB curing units instantly link the polymers of specially formulated inks and coatings with streams of high-energy electrons for a glossy surface that offers high resistance to abrasion and other kinds of wear and tear. However, the extreme cost of early EB units all but ruled out the technique's adoption in flexography, the printing process for the kinds of packaging in which EB curing's unique properties might otherwise have given the most benefit.

But, notes John Kalkowski, marketing manager for Sun Chemical Ink, the price of EB curing equipment has finally declined to the point where many printers are taking a second or a first look at the technology. He says that Sun Chemical, sensing a swell in the market for EB-cured flexo packaging, will be ready with a new process called WetFlexa liquid-ink system designed to use the company's UniQure energy curable inks in flexographic presses with central impression (CI) drums.

The inks cure instantaneously after the printed image is exposed to an electron beam from a unit installed in-line after the central impression cylinder. Sun Chemical says that with WetFlex, printing can be done independently of color laydown sequence and without interstation drying or curing during the production of multicolor jobs on nonabsorbent substrates. According to Sun Chemical, WetFlex eliminates the need for dryers and overhead ovens that typically are required to dry flexo inks adequately. Using no solvents and generating no VOCs, the UniQure inks are said to be well suited to packaging for food, cosmetics, and other consumer products.

WetFlex is getting an unusual boost from a Spanish press manufacturer called Comexi, which, according to Kalkowski, will demonstrate that EB printing is commercially viable by installing a flexographic press built specifically to run with the WetFlex process. The 58" CI press, destined for a packaging producer in the Middle East, reportedly can print, coat, or laminate with EB curing in a single pass using WetFlex and UniQure inks. Printed samples of the WetFlex process are available for inspection at Sun Chemical's stand in Print City (Hall 6).

Kalkowski also draws attention to the drupa debut of a new process ink line called World Series. The product, he says, represents Sun Chemical's bid to create a set of sheetfed inks that are able to run on virtually all sheetfed presses with optimal results in most applications. Because the new inks have a broad lithographic window, Kalkowski says, they do not have to be custom blended for different market requirements in various parts of the world.

The inksthe first such products from Sun Chemical to be launched globallyare based on a rapeseed (vegetable) vehicle and contain no mineral oil. They are said to offer excellent lithographic performance on large- and small-format four-color presses, including perfectors, with substrates including coated papers and board. To enhance their performance, World Series inks can be paired with specially formulated fountain solutions and coatings from Sun Chemical. In North America, World Series inks will be available from the company's Kohl & Madden subsidiary.

Flint Ink

Imagine yourself the manager of a Wal-Mart Supercenter or another big-box retailer, lying awake nights as you agonize over the fact at any given moment, you cannot pinpoint the location or the status of any of the hundreds of thousands of items in your inventory. Bar coding on packages offers some help in tracking inventory, provided that a machine or an employee with a hand-held device has scanned the codes and logged the package data into a database. But because isn't possible to scan every item in a Wal-Mart, and because bar codes on packages don't reveal anything about where the item is anyway, an unrecorded package with a bar code on an obscure shelf is as out of sight and out of mind as an unrecorded package in the same location without one.

Enter a potential cure for the chronic insomnia of inventory management: radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and labels, smart attachments that turn packages into tiny broadcasting stations with miniaturized computer chips and antennas. According to proponents of RFID technology, a smart tag or label can receive, store, and transmit data for inventory tracking. It can even detect shipment conditions such as humidity and temperature at any point in the supply chain. Some advocates believe that RFID ultimately will replace bar coding as the standard tool for supply chain monitoring and management.

Flint Ink is preparing for the rise of RFID through its Precisia LLC division, an Ann Arbor, Mich., developer of printed electronics technologies. At drupa, Precisia is promoting an alternative to the copper-wire antennas that currently predominate in RFID: conductive inks for printable antennas that are, according to Precisia president Jim Rohrkemper, less than half the cost of the copper-wire variety with up to 95 percent of copper's sensitivity.

The inks, available in formulations for flexo, gravure, rotary screen, and wet offset, replace copper coils with particles of conductive silver and/or carbon to act as the wire in the transfer of electric signals to and from the chip. Precisia says that the inks can be run at high speeds in traditional printing lines on a variety of substrates including paper, paperboard and synthetic materials. Besides smart packaging, potential applications are game boards and other printed circuits, lighting, and displays.

The inks are a forward-looking venture for Flint, which says that Precisia is the first company to produce fully functional RFID tags with antennas printed at high speeds in one location. According to Rohrkemper, the technology remains in its initial phase because there is still no way to affix RFID materials on packages at the same high speed at which the Precisia conductive inks can print the wireless antennas. He speculates, however, that within the next five years, RFID tagging will have progressed from its present slap and ship mode to a point at which it will be possible to attach chips and antennas in the same production runs where the graphic arts are put on.

Rohrkemper says that several packaging and label customers of Flint Ink are using the Precisia conductive inks to test the feasibility of source level RFID enablement. Precisia is pursuing trials of its own at its R&D laboratory in Ann Arbor. We're chasing all of the emerging markets for RFID, Rohrkemper says. If even one or two of them take off, we'll be in a very nice position for leadership.

Addressing a somewhat less exotic but no less significant ink topic, Steve D'Angelo, marketing director for Flint's packaging division, is telling drupa visitors about a new ink formulation technique that can resolve what he calls the conflict of interest between consumer-goods companies that want their packages to dazzle and printers who just want the job to run without a hitch.

According to D'Angelo, everyone wants inks with richer colors, but simply cramming more pigment into a conventional recipe only thickens the ink and makes it harder to work with on press. In contrast, he says, Flint's new XTREME Dispersions colorants make it possible to increase an ink's pigment content by 20 percent, yielding products that flow better and lay down richer color with a thinner film than inks blended in the usual way.

Flint says that the XTREME Dispersions method uses a proprietary chemistry to create stronger, more concentrated inks without increasing viscosity. The formulation is said to increase ink mileage and potentially reduce ink consumption by as much as 30 percenta savings, says D'Angelo, that will more than make up for the higher price of XTREME Dispersions inks.

The inks are available in Pantone colors as water-based formulations for flexo and gravure. Flint says that they run easily and dry quickly, delivering precise images in equipment fitted with fine-line anilox rolls. The does-more-with-less performance of XTREME Dispersions inks, notes D'Angelo, should make them particularly appealing to package producers: Most viably efficient manufacturers of packaging will want to go with a reduced ink film thickness, he says.

Flint also hopes that the sweet smell of success will cling to a new product whose appeal is not visual but olfactory: Rub'nSmell, a line of colorless scented inks for packaging, labeling, point of sale, direct mail, and print advertising applications. The inks, which can be formulated with microencapsulated stock scents or custom fragrances, are applied directly over printed graphics and activate only when rubbed. Flint says that they can be run inline as spot colors or in full coverage on offset, flexo, gravure, or screen printing equipment.

Van Son

Those who think that binary digits have finally driven the art out of printing may not wish to press the opinion too enthusiastically upon Royal Dutch Printing Ink Factories Van Son, which has made The Art of Ink its slogan for drupa and the motto for all of its product lines (including inkjet and digital inks).

To Van Son, the art of ink is the art of the possiblea strategy for doing the best that can be done under existing circumstances. At drupa, for example, the company is launching the Vs5 Series, a new sheetfed offset ink for medium to large offset presses that also will be available in a UV formulation. The company says that Vs5 was created specifically to help printers deal with shorter turnarounds and higher press speeds through a product enabling reduced makeready times, press runs with no ink related downtime, and quick drying to allow fast handling.

Van Son wants to offer printers additional help in the form of its Tele Colour Matching (TCM) system, a remote service aimed at providing fast and accurate matches of any non-process color. TCM takes into account not only the color requirement but the substrate on which will the job will be printed when the color to be matched is mixed.

Using a spectrophotometer, a printer requesting TCM assistance measures the reference color either from a color guide, an earlier print, or a sample. The printer also spectrally measures the papera step essential to assuring accuracy in the formulation of the ink. The measurements are e-mailed to Van Son along with information about the paper type (coated or uncoated) and the quantity that the job requires. Van Son then manufactures the color with the help of ink formulation software from Gretag. Following a series of checks, Van Son confirms the recipe's match to the data furnished by the printer.

Van Son says that the TCM system provides the closest possible accuracy in matching and mixing special colorsmuch more than any result that can be achieved by mixing visually or picking from a color guide.

CORRECTION: In a previous drupa report we misstated the sheet size of Heidelberg's new XL 105 press, giving it as 70 cm x 105 cm when it should have been 75 cm x 105 cm. John Dowey, vice president of sheetfed product management for Heidelberg USA, wrote to explain why our 5 cm error is larger than it may appear: This is an important distinction as it makes the XL 105 capable of using a 29.5" x 41.33" sheetthe largest in its class. This enables square-inch oriented printers like label or packaging printers to get more ups' on the sheet and hence increase productivity beyond the obvious 18,000 sheets per hour.

We're sorry for the mistake, and we thank Mr. Dowey for the additional information.